The White City of Arequipa
My two weeks in Peru were off to a great start. I had landed in Lima to meet my Peruvian friend and then moved on to Paracas, Huacachina and Arequipa. From Arequipa, I would take a day trip to Colca Canyon and then travel to Cusco where I’d discover Rainbow Mountain, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Day 1 | Join a Free Walking Tour & Dine at the Most Beautiful Plaza in South America
After an exhausting twelve hour overnight bus from Huacachina (via Ica) my friend and I decided to split up for a few days. Esau is Peruvian and jumped on a bus to his hometown of Ilo. I took a taxi to my hostel, Maycawasi, in the heart of Arequipa. I set up a five person shared room for $7 US a night.
After a quick nap I began to explore the city. Esau recommended I try a local dish in Arequipa called rocoto relleno. Rocoto relleno is a red pepper stuffed with ground beef, onion, garlic, egg and cheese served with potato. I have to admit, it wasn't my favorite - a bit heavy compared to what I'd been eating but a must try if you're in Arequipa.
With a full belly, I made my way to La Gringa, a popular pizza shop and meeting point for the free walking tour. Walking tours are hosted twice daily - 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. A huge group had gathered for the tour - maybe 30 of us. We signed in and went upstairs for a free sample of chocolate tea from Chaqchao, a famous chocolate shop.
The free walking tour took two hours and stopped off all over the city. Our guide was extremely passionate about Arequipa and gave us a ton of information on it's history and importance in both Peru and South America.
Our group visited the main plaza of Arequipa, Fundo El Fierro - an artisan market, Alpaca World, Plaza San Francisco and other beautiful spots throughout the city. I figured I'd revisit most of sites later on to take photos - it was much too hard with such a large group.
Fundo El Fierro, meaning Iron Ranch, has quite a history. In years past it was used as a girls school and then a women's prison. It has now been converted to the cities first official handicrafts marketplace.
As the tour ended it began to storm. I parked myself in a coffee shop drinking hot chocolate to wait out the rain. Arequipa is pretty wet, much more so than the coastal cities I'd been in previously. Remember to pack a raincoat and umbrella everywhere you go - it can be sudden and unexpected.
On my way back toward the hostel, I decided to stop for dinner. I found a restaurant in the main plaza and chose it mostly for the view which overlooked the entire square. At first, they showed me a menu full of touristy food with high prices. When I mentioned it was too expensive they suddenly offered "menu" prices.
And just as I thought, the view was beautiful. It was still sprinkling over the plaza and everything glistened in the rain.
A few locals were playing live music, stopping at each table looking for tips. I ordered an avocado salad for my appetizer, lomo saltado and a pineapple smoothie. Everything was great but I was starting to get a stomach bug and didn't have much of an appetite. And the avocado salad had way too much mayo for my taste.
Back at the hostel I packed a bag for the morning. I booked a two day one night tour to Colca Canyon for 90 soles ($30 US) through my hostel, Maycawasi. The tour included transportation, one night's stay in the tiny town of Chivay, breakfast and a guide.
Days 1 & 2 | Colca Canyon, Peru
Day 2: Evening | Dine at a Pizzeria & Shop for Antiques
After my arrival back to Arequipa from Colca Canyon I wasn't feeling great. My stomach was upset and I was suffering from motion and altitude sickness. Thank goodness the pharmacy offered some relief. I also drank coca tea. It's known as a local remedy for altitude sickness and it's leaves can be found all over Peru. Coca leaves are that from the coca plant used to make cocaine. The tea is a mind stimulant similar to that of a cup of coffee but do be careful, drinking the tea can cause a positive result on a drug test for cocaine.
Even a sick girl has to eat so I walked over to Las Gringas, a popular Peruvian pizzeria featuring pizzas with quinoa flour and purple corn infused bases paired with local ingredients. I ordered their gluten free cheese pizza with an infusion maracuya tea. Everything was delicious.
Near the front of the plaza was an amazing antique market with some really interesting items. I took my time walking through the store and fell in love with the handmade pillows and blankets. I promised I'd be back to pick up a few pillows.
Between the antique shop and pizzeria lies a chocolate shop called Chaqchao. This is the same shop that offered chocolate tea during the walking tour. Chaqchao is famous for their hot chocolate but I never got a chance to try one. They have some amazing products in the shop downstairs too, so take a look!
Day 3: Morning | Feed Alpacas at Alpaca World
That afternoon my Peruvian friend would arrive back into Arequipa from his hometown of Ilo. I figured I'd spend the first half of the day around the city revisiting some of the spots I discovered on the walking tour. First up though, was breakfast. I heard about a super cute cafe just north of the main plaza called Huayruro Peruvian Cafe. I ordered a dirty chai and granola with yogurt and fruit. It was very nice, especially the fruit.
With enough caffeine and a full belly I made my way to Alpaca World once again. Through the beautiful shop and out the back is a little exhibit with a dozen or so alpacas. This time I was able to get up close and personal with the alpacas and even feed them some greens.
Honestly, I couldn't get enough of these cute little guys but watch out for your fingers. They definitely aren't shy and they will scarf down anything within reach.
In addition to the retail shop and exhibition, Alpaca World has an informational exhibit to learn about the animals, what type of material they produce, dying processes and production methods.
I learned alpaca yarn is dyed with all natural minerals to create rich colors. The yarn is then weaved into intricate tapestries by women who have learned this valuable ancient tradition.
Day 3: Afternoon | Explore Secret Rooms at Santa Catalina Monastery & Admire the Most Beautiful Plaza in South America
On the way out I picked up an apple muffin from Dimas and entered Convent of Santa Catalina de Siena. Built in 1579, the monastery served as a cloister for Dominican nuns from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and still houses a small community of nuns today. The monastery only opened to the public in 1970 due to a lack of monetary resources for upkeep.
The grounds of Santa Catalina are incredible - and ENORMOUS. They encompass courtyards, streets, galleries, chapels, living quarters and even access to fresh water through a gutter system.
As women entered the monastery they were committing a lifelong promise and could no longer leave the quarters. It was important they had sunlight so a ton of open air plazas and windows were designed into the monastery.
Santa Catalina is so large you can anticipate getting lost and spending a few hours exploring. I had a great time peaking in and out of hidden rooms and taking photos of tiny details. Even furniture was well preserved.
The monastery was full of vibrant plants bathing in sunlight. I've never seen succulents so big. There were also a ton of beautiful flowers and cacti.
On the way back to my hostel, I passed through the main plaza of Arequipa again. It's actually been dubbed the most beautiful square in all of South America - and it just might be true. The architecture is gorgeous and huge palm trees line the perimeter.
Just past the Plaza de Armas is the Church of the Company, a small baroque church known for it's elaborate carved facade and an interior chapel with jungle patterns and designs.
With luck I bumped into this beautiful open air square shown to our group during the free walking tour. In one of the corners, you'll find a staircase up to the second level. Make sure to check it out. The views are gorgeous and you'll find a few restaurants up there if you're looking for a drink.
Day 3: Evening | Enjoy Sunset at Yanahuara Plaza & Gorge on Vegan Sushi
Some time later my Peruvian friend, Esau, arrived back in Arequipa. The two of us rushed out the door toward Yanahuara. Yanahuara is a suburb of Arequipa and takes about 30+ minutes to reach by foot. I heard it's a great spot to catch the sunset.
The views of the city were incredible although I was hoping to get a clear view of one of the volcanoes surrounding the city. I'd imagine if you found a higher viewpoint you'd be able to see much more of the landscape. The plaza was gorgeous so not a total loss and the palms are massive.
Esau and I picked up a quick snack of arroz con leche (rice pudding) and then jumped in a taxi back to downtown Arequipa.
Ultimately, we decided on a vegan sushi spot called El Buda Profano. Vegan sushi definitely sounded a bit strange but the reviews were great so, why not? El Buda Profano turned out to be one of my favorite meals. Albeit a little salty, but incredible - I didn't know veggies could be so flavorful.
The menu offered a number of ala carte options, as well as some really nice combinations. We chose the two person combination for 50 soles or less than $20 US. The combo included (2) salads, (6) gyoza, (4) gunkanmaki, (5) buda maki, (5) selva maki, (5) futomaki verde and (2) sopita miso. Buda Profano offers fresh daily made juices that are delicious, as well.
Maycawasi is a really great place to stay. Staff is super helpful with booking tours and information around the city. They will even store your luggage if you take a tour to Colca Canyon. The main door is secure but rooms do not have lockers.
The location is only two blocks away from the city center. The hostel is comfortable and has decent WiFi. Showers are hot but the small kitchen doesn't offer a fridge or microwave. There is a rooftop patio where a light breakfast of tea/coffee, bread and fruit is served each morning.